As a pastoral counselor, I am a specialist in helping people connect their faith to their efforts to improve their emotional or psychological wellbeing. Some people have had very bad experiences with religious folks imposing their own personal beliefs upon them, with an attitude of authority and condemnation. Condemning others for having questions, doubts, or different experiences and beliefs is considered a failure in most religious traditions. This sort of religious intolerance is the farthest thing from the practice of pastoral counseling, and often causes serious damage to human wellbeing. Pastoral counselors create affirming and challenging space for the client’s faith to speak, and helps people uncover the resources they are already carrying within.
Pastoral counselors respect the faith traditions and perspectives of others and refrain from imposing their own beliefs. Part of their work is to listen with heightened sensitivity to the language of their clients and help them discern the central themes of meaning, belief and values that become apparent in their lives. This happens both with and without the explicit use of religious language. Have you noticed that sometimes the most faith-filled people are those who show a profound generosity of spirit without needing to use any religious language at all?
Identifying those central beliefs, meanings and values creates a deep resource for struggling with and resolving the many questions that bring people to therapy.
Christian counseling is different from pastoral counseling because it defines belief in Christ as a standard to be met. Christian counseling and Spiritual Direction are faith practices that presume a faith language and draw from its resources for growth and healing. Still, it is important to find a practitioner who will refrain from imposing their own personal beliefs as a standard to met in the helping relationship.